The sale of the 12 regional electricity companies will raise some £8 billion, more than £5 billion from the sale of the shares and almost another £3 billion from the injection of debt into the companies.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the high level of those figures is significant and reflects the great success of all those involved in what was a difficult flotation? In view of that large sum, will he suggest to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that at least some of the money could be spent advantageously on energy efficiency schemes both on their own merits and as a way of meeting global warming problems?
I agree with my hon. Friend about the success of the sale. Privatisation in itself has several advantages for energy efficiency. First, the Electricity Act 1989, under which the companies were privatised, places an obligation on them to promote energy efficiency. Secondly, the creation of competition and a downward pressure on fuel prices should substantially improve energy efficiency. My ministerial committee, set up as a result of the Government's environmental White Paper, is pursuing many other avenues of energy efficiency.
Is the Secretary of State aware that a large tranche of shares in South Wales Electricity was bought by the Welsh water authority and that, given the way things are going with the sale of the regional electricity companies, we are liable to end up with Wales plc, which cannot be a vast improvement on the monopolies that preceded privatisation?
Of course, the sale of the shares took place after the companies were put into the private sector. All the regulations were drawn up in accordance with stock exchange rules. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a golden share operates in the company. It would not be right for me to say anything further at this stage.
Even before the Government have received most of the proceeds of the sale of the regional electricity companies, we are once more being softened up by the aerial bombardment of "Star Trek" before the land invasion of the generating companies begins with the production of the pathfinder prospectus on Friday. Will the Secretary of State confirm that one thing that he has learnt from the disaster of the sale of the electricity distribution companies is that if one keeps back 40 per cent. and underprices 60 per cent., one has some hope of making up some of that underpricing two years later when one sells the remaining 40 per cent?
The hon. Gentleman is an observer of the scene, but not a wholly dispassionate one. I do not accept his strictures on the sale of the regional electricity companies. I do not accept that they were underpriced or that the sale of the generating companies will be underpriced. We shall take proper care to ensure that the price struck is fair to taxpayers and investors. Naturally, the fact that we are selling only 60 per cent. rather than 100 per cent. will have to be taken into account.